Interview: Years & Years talk Star Wars, North Korea and olive spreads at the end of a whirlwind year

Years & Years talk Star Wars, North Korea and olive spreads at the end of a whirlwind year

Catching up with 2015’s biggest breakthrough as they touch down after twelve months of madness.

It’s been the year of Years & Years. They were the cover stars of DIY’s Class of 2015. Then they won BBC’s Sound of 2015. After that, it was pretty much confirmed - they were going to be massive.

But that didn’t necessarily mean they’d become proper superstars, with debut album ‘Communion’ topping charts worldwide and frontman Olly Alexander being one of 2015’s defining faces.

The big question: 12 months on from being the most exciting new band around, and having that premonition confirmed, have they become wankers? Not by the sounds of it. Their riders are more fancy. They’re wearing nicer clothes, come to think of it. But they don’t have an endless entourage and their egos haven’t skyrocketed just because ‘King’ is a massive tune.

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On a scale of ‘really rubbish’ to ‘oh my god amazing’ to ‘couldn’t believe this would ever happen’, what’s this year been like?

Mikey Goldsworthy: I think we need a graph, here.
Emre Turkmen: It’s definitely been the last one. It’s been a year of firsts. Jools Holland to Glastonbury to number 1. It’s been amazing.
M: Probably a nine out of ten.
E: You can never get a ten. It’s a falsity. When in life is anything perfect?

It only dawned on me just how massive you are, when I was in Poland. Open’er Festival, thousands of people stampeding towards this stage, which you happened to be playing.

M: Were they running away from velociraptors?
E: Poland? Well you wouldn’t have been in America.
Olly Alexander: We’re rockstars in Poland. We’re always trending in Poland.

Is there anywhere that doesn’t bloody get it, then?

O: I don’t think China have embraced us yet. North Korea. They hate us. But in America we’re not really all that. We’ve played to big crowds but we’re not considered commercial enough, in radio.
E: Someone in the U.S. said that ‘King’ wasn’t commercial enough.
O: Yeah someone said ‘It’s not really an obvious pop song, is it?’ Erm… I once played it to a songwriter in LA and he was like ‘That’s a very unusual concept’.
M: What did he say it could be improved by?
O: Something about the lyrics not making sense. It was too ‘80s or something, I dunno. It’s pretty intense.
E: America is an entirely different beast. Each state is the size of the UK. Several Polands.

“Justin Bieber honestly had fifteen people around him constantly.”

Olly Alexander

It all kicked off when you won the Sound Of, which doesn’t always translate into a brilliant thing. Did you get told, ‘Hang on, you’ve actually got to be massive now’?

E: It certainly changed everything for us. Literally, the day after was insane. And it only hit home the day it was announced.
O: We’d not really done anything like that until then. I knew it was a big deal. We thought we’d had most of the album written. And then we were lucky, because ‘King’ was our next song. Then it ended up being crazy big. We were shocked though - we thought James Bay would win.

James Bay’s had a good year though.

E: Yeah, the Sound Of is a strange concept. But one of the things I like about the British public is that they don’t like being told what to do. It sometimes has the opposite effect, pushing people away from you. But that doesn’t seem to have happened with us, and that made me really happy and proud.
O: It gets harder and harder for new acts to break through. If you’re not on X Factor, you need tastemakers to approve you and get you into a place where more people are going to hear you. It doesn’t necessarily work out.

And then it’s viewed as a Sound Of curse. Or a Mercury curse. Were you a bit bummed out at not getting a Mercury nomination, or was it not really on the radar?

O: I didn’t think we were gonna get one.
E: It never occurred to me. But to be honest, we’re still at that stage where we don’t expect to be nominated for anything. The Mercury is a different kettle of fish.
O: All the attention we got seemed to be more commercial. Although they have had commercial acts before.

Florence was nominated this year.

O: That’s true. But no, I didn’t think we were gonna win it.
E: It’s a good list though.

In a year of big things, how have you kept yourselves in check? You seem to have an entourage of ten people now.

E: Do we?!
O: Well that lady over there does make-up. There’s our manager, with her assistant.
M: I’d quite like an entourage though. That’d be great. They’re not supposed to do anything.
O: Justin Bieber honestly had fifteen people around him constantly. And as soon as he came off stage, they were like ‘Our boy smashed it! He killed it!’ and they were high-fiving each other. They walked into this dressing room, and there fifteen massive guys blocking the way.
E: I want high fives!
O: I want people to tell me we can do better.
E: Our sound guy usually goes ‘Hmm yeah, that was alright’.

“You could open a deli with our rider. Sliced meats, hummus, breads, sauces, dips. It’s all very deli-based.”

Olly Alexander

Has your rider changed dramatically?

O: It’s definitely gotten bigger. The crew love to each sandwiches, so it’s got an impressive array. You could open a deli with our rider. Sliced meats, hummus, breads, sauces, dips. It’s all very deli-based.
E: We were once told our rider was the best for sandwiches.
O: We could do a thing where the first two fans through the door get a free sandwich.

Do you not throw in a wildcard every so often?

E: Tapenade. Have you not tried it? It’s a sensational olive paste.
M: Quite salty though.

But there have been no diva requests? Nothing about what’s in the sandwiches?

E: Second album. That’s when we’ll do it.

Ooh, second album. What’s going on with that? It’s early, isn’t it?

E: I started getting some pedals and I started sifting through synth sounds. But other than that, nothing.
O: I’ve been writing bits, but not really. I need a proper piano to write on, because I can’t use a computer that well. I have a lot of voice memos, notes on my iPhone - that sort of thing. It’s all a scramble.

“I wanna be asked to be in the next Star Wars film.”

Mikey Goldsworthy

Are you planning any end of year parties?

E: We’re doing a couple of Christmas parties. One for Google maybe?
M: The rider there would be amazing. But we’re all going to be in Dubai, and then after that it’s personal family time.

What albums have defined your 2015?

O: I really like Grimes’ new album [‘Art Angels’]. That’s been on repeat. There’s a lot of grunting and screaming, and some of them are amazing pop songs.
E: Wolf Alice [‘My Love Is Cool’]. They’re bloody great! And they’re even better live. It’s so much heavier, it’s just the best.
O: Ellie’s amazing.
E: Actually you know what? John Grant [‘Grey Tickles, Black Pressure’] is my fave.

One wish for 2016 - what would it be?

E: Peace of mind!
O: I’d just quit smoking.
M: I wanna be asked to be in the next Star Wars film. If J. J. Abrams is reading, then please say hi.

Years & Years are part of The DIY List 2015, where we pick out all the best acts of the year. Catch up with all that here.